A liberal and progressive look forward from Cambridge…
"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last stage of the pilgrimage of life on earth Thank you and good night".
These were the final words of Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday February 28 addressed to the faithful crowds from the balcony of his new residence, Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome. The papal conclave is scheduled to decide on a new pope before Easter.
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has been interpreted as the most radical move by an otherwise conservative Pope. There are few precedents for papal abdications. Pope Celestine V in 1294 was criticised by Dante in the Inferno for his "viltade", or cowardice. Yet, according to medieval historian and practicing Catholic Dr Claire Daunton, speaking exclusively to The Cambridge Student, Pope Benedict's decision is both "brave and momentous".
The Pope cited reasons of ill health – both physical and mental – for leaving office. Commentators add the endless strength needed to affront the Church's current difficulties: Vatileaks, a controversy involving leaked Vatican documents; sex-abuse scandals; and, more recently, the sexual misconduct of Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
Given Benedict XVI's reasons of ill health, the next Pope will likely be younger. The Bishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, is the most prominent Italian candidate. However, according to Dr Daunton, it is probable that the conclave will "swing away from an Italian pope since they are too close to the curia. There is much merit in a non-European", she added, "but, above all, the new Pope should be a good manager and a good spiritual leader".
Other strong candidates include Peter Turkson from Ghana, Odilo Scherer from Brazil, Marc Ouellet from Quebec and Luis Tagle from the Philippines.
The array has sparked interest among Cambridge students. In conversation with TCS, a PhD student in Philosophy from Fisher House, for example, said: "although a black Pope would be nice, it is not substantive enough; he will have to be the correct person."
"Whoever is picked", they continued, "the Church will benefit from the fresh ideas and a fresh vision the new Pope will bring".
Indeed, on the new direction of the Catholic Church, Doherty expressed her sadness at the media focus on Keith O'Brien's homosexuality. Pointing out that Catholicism is not against homosexuality per se, but advocates a vow of celibacy, she added: "Some changes could be made to the vow of celibacy with respect for the organic continuation of Church tradition, making it, for instance, an optional choice".
Likewise, Dr Daunton hopes for a Church with a more modern and responsive outlook. She concluded: ‘Although I don't foresee women priests, I would like women to be recognised for their work, maybe with some kind of a title women should be allowed to preach.'
Dr Daunton also noted the strength of Catholicism in Cambridge, with around 20 conversions in the city in the last year. It will be interesting to see whether the liberal and progressive Catholicism being practiced in Cambridge, and which has attracted so many new believers, finds a counterpart in the faith of the new Pope.